“I’m Bored!”

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Delayed gratification isn’t all that popular, is it? Think about the common refrain of younger kids: “I’m bored!” Whenever I would say that as I was growing up, my mom would respond, “I’m never bored; I’m always with me.” That response annoyed me as a kid, but I understand it and agree with it now! I think too often we want to “help” our kids by immediately giving them something newer and more exciting for them to focus on. But by jumping in with new activities or new toys or electronics, we may actually be doing more harm than good.

Because we may be accidentally setting them up to take a “rushed” view of life, where they are moving from one thing to the next whenever they lose interest in something. And that’s a problem because much of life is about slow, incremental steps that add up to significant things over a long span of time. Think about the fact that all new habits develop the same way. At first, they are the conscious choice to do something new or different. But as we repeat this behavior over time, it becomes more and more of a regular pattern in our lives. This is true for exercise, diet, regular home or car maintenance, personal growth habits, or work habits. The things that add up to make a big difference over time are the repeated, often small (and maybe monotonous) actions that we take. And we have to watch these actions carefully, because good habits and bad habits develop the same way—with time and repetition.

In other words, lots of the “boring” stuff is what adds up over time to really dictate what life is like for many of us. Staying on task or continuing to make the right choices in the small things adds up in a big way, but it takes time to see the results. And, as parents or grandparents, we can help the kids around us practice developing these good habits a little bit at a time. And we can start in a really simple way.

If your kids are bored, let them sit in that feeling for a while. It will help them to more deeply appreciate the moments when they are not bored. And delayed gratification will also help them develop important character traits like patience, perseverance, determination, and gratitude. When they (and we) realize that life is not simply a series of “highlight moments,” we’re really setting everybody up for realistic expectations for the future.

As we help our kids realize that the expectation of being entertained or of enjoying what they’re doing all of the time is unrealistic, we’re setting them up for the reality of things like chores, classrooms, homework, and work. I understand the impulse to keep our kids entertained and to allow them to cram as much excitement and enjoyment into a day as possible. I mean, we do love them after all! But I want to remind everybody reading this that it’s vital that we help set realistic expectations about the fact that lots of life is made up of the small, seemingly unimportant and “boring” moments, because our kids won’t be young forever. And watching 30- and 40-year-olds who are constantly chasing after excitement to the neglect of the things that they should be responsible for isn’t a pretty picture. Instead of starting them on that path, let’s teach them that there are worse things in life than being bored.